A bee’s donger

This time yesterday, Liberal member Fran Bailey held on to a 32-vote lead in McEwen which, though rapidly diminishing, was calculated by Antony Green to be 77 per cent likely to hold after the few remaining votes were counted. Those votes are now in: the last few absent votes broke 100-93 in favour of Labor’s Rob Mitchell, postals went 37-21 his way, pre-polls favoured him to the tune of 33-23, and further rechecking of booth votes cost Bailey 14 and Mitchell eight. All of which leaves Mitchell seven votes ahead. This is apparently the final result, pending the final recount, which could certainly turn up enough anomalies to overturn a lead as small as this. Adam Carr further argues that with a margin of fewer than 20 votes, “the Liberal Party’s lawyers will be able to scrape up some pretext or another for a court challenge”. He also states: “Unfortunately for Labor, most of the precedents are that the incumbent government loses the subsequent by-election (Nunawading, Mundingburra, Greensborough).”

Mundingburra of course was the Queensland by-election in February 1996 that cost the Goss government the one-seat majority it retained after the 1995 election. The other two are from Carr’s home patch of Victoria. There are probably about five people in the country who can tell you about the 1985 by-election for the state upper house province of Nunawading, and I am not of their number. UPDATE: Scratch that – the result cost the Cain government its short-lived control of the upper house, so probably quite a few people know about it, including me from now on. What’s more, it followed an initial tied result and a win for Labor decided by a draw from a hat. The Greensborough by-election refers not to the one Sherryl Garbutt won in 1989, but rather to the one Poll Bludger commenter Chris Curtis ran in as DLP candidate in 1977, which produced a massive swing to the then Labor opposition. ANOTHER UPDATE: A correction in comments from Brian McKinlay (of McKinlay case fame), who says Carr was in fact referring to yet another by-election for Greensborough which took place in 1973, which saw a Liberal win overturned by the court before being re-confirmed by the electorate. One might respond that the 1996 Lindsay by-election demonstrates that voters do not take kindly to initiators of legal challenges, but perhaps the 5.0 per cent Liberal swing on that occasion had more to do with Labor’s generally poor performance at re-matches than is generally realised.

Anyway, let’s assume now for the sake of argument that this result stands. We now have a new modern standard for close federal electorate results to beat Liberal candidate Ian Viner’s 12-vote win in Stirling in 1974. The historians among you are invited to relate other famous close shaves in comments. We also have Labor on 84 seats and the Coalition on 64, with two independents. This is pleasing from a personal perspective as it’s exactly what I predicted early in the campaign for New Matilda, although I did underestimate Queensland’s contribution to the Labor total. Unfortunately, the day before the election I upped the ante to 87 in a prediction for Crikey, which looked very good on election night but became progressively less good as counting proceeded.

This prediction was highlighted today in The Australian, which has promoted me from confuser of fact with opinion and baser of opinion on ignorance and prejudice to the slightly more elevated title of “pundit”. I suspected at first that The Australian compiled this list as a subtle dig at an online commentariat that had leaned a little too heavily to Labor in its predictions, but that doesn’t explain the inclusion of Malcolm Mackerras. In any case, Brad Norington bails me out in the accompanying article by trying on the line that Labor owes its win to “fewer than 12,000 people across nine electorates”. Those of you marvelling over the seven-vote margin in McEwen are invited to consider an election in which the Coalition held on to power after retaining each of Bass, Bennelong, Braddon, Corangamite, Deakin, Flynn, Hasluck, Robertson and Solomon by one solitary vote. On this basis, I hereby declare that my prediction of 87 seats was only out by 595 votes out of 12,350,549. It would in fact be far more accurate to say it was 0.2 per cent out, which isn’t so bad either I suppose.

UPDATE: Adam Carr on historical close results:

In terms of numbers of votes, the closest result in a House of Representatives contest was 1 vote (13,569 to 13,568), when Edwin Kirby (Nationalist) defeated Charles McGrath (ALP) in Ballarat (Vic) in 1919. The result was declared void in 1920. In 1903 Robert Blackwood (FT) defeated John Chanter (Prot) in Riverina (NSW) by 5 votes (4,341 to 4,336). This result was also declared void. The closest result allowed to stand was 7 votes (13,162 to 13,155), when John Lynch (ALP), defeated Hon Alfred Conroy (Lib) in Werriwa (NSW) in 1914. In terms of percentages of the vote, the closest result was Kirby’s voided win in Ballarat in 1919: he polled 50.002% of the vote. The closest result allowed to stand was that in the Griffith (Qld) by-election of 1939, when William Conelan (ALP) defeated Peter McCowan (UAP), after preferences, with 50.007% of the vote. The closest winning margin in recent times has been 50.011%, polled by Ian Viner (Liberal) in Stirling (WA) in 1974 and by Christine Gallus (Liberal) in Hawker (SA) in 1990.

Mitchell has 50.003%, so his percentage is lower than both Conelan’s in 1939, Viner’s in 1974 and Gallus’s in 1990.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

664 comments on “A bee’s donger”

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  1. Where was the “Midhurst” booth, Chris?

    I actually live in the “Midhurst” section (ie on the west of Diamond Creek and S of Arthurs Creek) of “Hurstbridge”, but there hasn”t been any sign of a polling booth here since I arrived in 1992. Couldn’t have been more than a couple of dozen familes in “Midhurst” in 1970, I would have thought, if its boundaries were then as they are now. Or were Yarrambat and Doreen seen as “Midhurst” , too in those days?



  2. Thanks everyone.

    Sure the Union Movement has many good people in it and I for one will continue to support them, the way the Howard Government behaved towards the Union movement not just with Workchoices but also the way it slandered them during the campaign also I would be curious to know how the 40% Union members who normally vote Liberal voted this time.

    McEwen is an interesting seat, if the recount comes back with the ALP winning the seat by 7 Votes then Fran should except it for I couldn’t see her winning a by-election.

  3. Rod,

    You never know – we could have passed in the streets of Hurstbridge more than once or sat only tables apart in the wonderful Hurstbridge Post Office cafe/restaurant without knowing each other. I can’t give you the address of the booth off-hand. I think it was a hall or a school, which sounds a bit weird. I’ll see what I can find in my records and get back to you. There were very few voters. It was a fairly boring time: there was more standing around than handing out.

  4. Rod,

    I have had a look at my records and have not been able to find the details. I did find that the DLP produced multi-lingual election material in 1970 and that Henry Bolte spent 43 per cent of the state budget on education – something for John Brumby to aim at – but I can’t find a reference to the Midhurst booth. My problem is I have too many records. When I next go out, I will detour via Midhurst and see if my visual memory can be activated. I believe I crossed the Monash Bridge and turned left up a hill. It may be Meander Road, but it has changed a great deal in the last 37 years, so my visual memory may have nothing to refer to. There were booths at Yarrambat and Doreen back then too, which also recorded big swings to the DLP.

  5. here’s a synopsis of an insider at the McEwen recount

    – a full recheck of the primary votes has occurred over the past 3 days – a second recheck is now to occur starting tomorrow
    – there will then be a check and re-check of the distribution of the preferences

    – about 1% (very rough figure) of the ballots have been challenged and a final determination will be made in Melb at a later date (presumably next week sometime)

    – the libs have more scrutineers than labor
    – for every one ballot being challenged by labor scrutineers, about 5 or 6 are being challenged by the lib scrutineers

    – there are as much as 50 primary votes (perhaps much more) that have clearly been assigned to the wrong candidate
    – many of the other challenged ballots will probably stay in the same ‘pile’

    – on the basis of all of this, there is strong possibility that the result COULD be turned around

  6. Rod,

    This evening, I had a drive looking for something to remind me where the Midhurst booth had been. The vegetation around Meander Road activated a neuron, but nothing else came to me from the area. I will see if I can find an old Melways or contact the AEC. You could ask a few long-standing neighbours if they remember a school or a hall in the area 37 years ago.

  7. both the libs and labor now concede that Bailey is just in front now in the McEwen recount – with about 300 of the esimated 1000 challenged ballots still to be determined

  8. Hey guys, off topic for McEwen but definitely related to the above chatter.

    Go to http://www.custommaps.net/images/melway5.htm

    This is an historical website that Melway have set up and it shows links to the original 1966 Melway, or, where maps for certain areas weren’t published, it shows the maps as published from editions 2-5.

    Perchance, the area covering Hurstbridge and Meander Rd is on a map as published in 1971! Alas, there’s nothing to indicate any church, hall or similar on or near Meander Rd. The closest is in ref B1 of map 129 Hazel Glen Church. That’s not near Monash Bridge, rather near Linton Bridge?

    I’m not familiar with the area but I note there’s no reference to a the Hazel Glen Church in the latest Melway edition.

    Hope this helps. Good luck!


  9. OTH made (a small amount) of good money on betfair as some bozo was requesting odds of 1.50 on Labor on the night of 16 December.

    OTH will have a pint tonight instead of a pot now with this extra cashola.

    See you at the imperial! 🙂

  10. Thanks, Old Time Hack. The Melways does not ring a bell, but I will drive out there and have a look. In the end, I’ll contact the Electoral Commission, and I will find where and what the Midhurst booth was.

  11. Breaking Story: Overheard in swish venue in Spring St precinct – senior Labor MP on telephone saying that Labor WILL challenge McEwen result. As OTH supports the Labor Candidate despite having not been a member of any party for long time, no further details will be entered into for risk of giving 104 a heads-up.

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